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SportsColumnistsMark La Monica

No question Frankie Edgar deserves respect

Frankie Edgar, right, and BJ Penn exchange punches

Frankie Edgar, right, and BJ Penn exchange punches during their lightweight title fight at UFC 118 in Boston. Edgar defended his title with a unanimous decision as all three judges scored it 50-45. (Aug. 28, 2010) Photo Credit: Getty

When Frankie Edgar entered the cage in Abu Dhabi last April to challenge BJ Penn for his UFC lightweight title, he was a huge underdog. An afterthought. Just the next guy to fall to Penn, one of the mixed martial artists in history.

Edgar won the fight. Easily. Unanimous decision. Of the 15 possible rounds (three judges, five-round fight), Edgar won 11. Received very little love from outside the judges' tables, though. It was a fluke.

When Frankie Edgar entered the cage in Boston last August to defend his UFC lightweight title against BJ Penn, he was still the underdog. Surely Penn would have figured out the mistakes he made the first time, adjust and ascend to his rightful place atop the 155-pound division.

Edgar won the fight. More easily than the first time. All three judges gave the five rounds to Edgar.

So when, just maybe, will Frankie Edgar be given the respect from MMA fans he has deserved?

"BJ's been around for such a long time, and he's been a dominant force at lightweight," Edgar said. "It's just a process it takes for guys to welcome somebody new. I'm seeing more and more [respect], but that's not what it's about. If I keep winning fights, the respect will come eventually."

That "The Answer" still has to answer such questions during interviews is embarrassing. The man won 26 of a possible 30 rounds of scoring against Penn, considered the greatest lightweight of all-time. What more does he need to prove to you?

Maybe people will believe if he beats Gray Maynard on New Year's Day at UFC 125 in Las Vegas. Maynard (11-0) is the only man to defeat the New Jersey native Edgar (13-1) as a professional.

"It was two and half years ago," Maynard said. "Any time you're going up against the top in the world, you evolve and change."

Edgar, a wrestler, has improved his jiu-jitsu and become an impressive striker with the power of a heavier fighter. Still, the preflight discourse seems to be focused on Edgar's avenging the one loss. That's nice ... for the first fight on a pay-per-view card. This is the main event. The championship bout.

But he does a good job of playing along with this discourse, for now. "I'm just approaching it as my next fight, my next title defense," Edgar said. "The fact that he beat me, and I get a chance to maybe get that one back, it does make it a little bit better."

Edgar deserves more than that. But it likely won't happen for a while. Should Edgar lose, they'll shape the wins over Penn as Penn not being sharp those two nights. Should Edgar defeat Maynard at UFC 125 on Saturday, he'll have another hoop to jump through for MMA fans.

The winner of this bout will fight new WEC lightweight champion Anthony "Showtime" Pettis in a title unification bout. UFC absorbed the WEC, its sister promotion, in October, adding to the strength of the lightweight division.

Ten days ago, it was Pettis who set the MMA world ablaze with the most electrifying move in the sport's history. Now called the "Showtime kick," he springboarded off the cage with his right foot and kicked Ben Henderson square in the face. It was something out of "The Matrix," something no one had ever seen before outside of Hollywood.

You know, but after that, maybe Edgar can get some love.

New York Sports